The nineties saw a wave of health consciousness sweep across India as more and more people stopped taking health for granted and started focusing seriously on a combination of exercise and medication. This increased health awareness combined with media reports of harmful side effects of drugs nudged consumers in the direction of ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines, which are supposedly free of side effects. The liberalization of India and the influx of foreign brands and cultures seem to have triggered a growing sense of national pride. One of the results is that many Indians embrace ayurveda as a traditional cure to modern day ailments.
The brand owners at Himalaya Drugs realized the great strength in ayurvedic research and jumped at the opportunity to cash in on a large and growing market for healthcare products. In 1999 Himalaya launched a range of offerings under the brand Ayurvedic Concepts. The brand targeted the modern Indian customer who was willing to pay a premium for good medicine as well as those who believed in ayurveda but were not inclined to go to a traditional ayurveda clinic.
The brand name Ayurvedic Concepts left no doubts as to the brandís leanings while at the same time provided a contemporary touch. The advertising was highly noticeable and memorable in a category that was rarely if ever seen on television before. Ads appeared featuring an old lady who knew the cool things of life like music groups and tackling boyfriend problems but also knew the age-old solutions to common health problems. ďDadimaĒ (Granny) was equally comfortable with laptop computers and air travel as with dandruff and acne removal remedies.
The concept of a granny as brand ambassador may seem odd, but it was appropriate for an Indian market in this category. Elders in Indian families are seen as a source of advice on how to get rid of small sicknesses like cold, cough and stomachache through household remedies -- many of which are based on ayurveda. Therefore consumers could easily relate to Dadima as a reliable source of information.
Characterizing her as up to date on culture and lifestyles allowed her to combine the concept of modernity and ayurveda together. The advertising showed that the brand had safe remedies for current problems, and importantly, it depicted the modern side of the brand by making Dadima cool.
In an interesting move, the brand opened showrooms that exclusively sold Ayurvedic Concepts products. Critics felt that these showrooms would not generate enough sales to sustain the costs especially at first when the product range was far more limited than it is today.
The retail outlets were a strong reflection of the brandís vision, and helped build recall value. This direct to consumer route (as opposed to doctor prescribed distribution), meant that the brand managers needed to educate consumers directly on the different aspects of ayurveda. However initially many of the salespeople seemed to lack the required education to instruct customers.
But while the brand lost some opportunity on the customer front it was doing very well with distribution. The willingness of pharmacists to stock the brand helped promote credibility and raise visibility.
In 2001 the company decided to integrate all of its brands under the same brand name -- Himalaya Herbal Healthcare. The objective was apparently to keep the corporate and product brands in line with each other, revamp the image and create a strong global identity. The name change was well implemented but the brand name does not seem to have achieved the same recall as Ayurvedic Concepts.
Although the company helped bring ayurvedic medicines to mainstream consumers, it has done far too little to expand the market or behave like a leader since. After 70 years of research the brand has enormous competence in the field of ayurveda -- probably more so than any other company in the world. This competence is an invaluable asset in launching new products or creating an edge over competition. However, when someone buys Himalaya, in his mind, he is buying ayurveda and not much more. This was an agreeable state of affairs when Himalaya was the only large ayurvedic player on the market, but today with more entrants in the market, the consumer has little reason to prefer Himalaya.
The brand owners should do more to promote the extensive R&D facilities and vast knowledge base developed over the years. This would enhance the brandís credibility of ayurveda as a scientifically researched school of medicine. Consumers then would not only have a good reason to prefer ayurveda over other medicine forms but would also have a reason to choose Himalaya over other ayurveda brands.
The brand very subtly tried to convey its expertise in its advertising but the impact does not seem to have been very strong. Hopefully Himalaya will choose to use its knowledge base to strengthen the customer brand relationship and build a leadership stance over time. Whatís more, Himalaya could do more to develop relationships with customers and try to cross sell different brands.
The ayurveda market is poised to grow rapidly in India with more and more people enthusiastically supporting this stream of medicine and extolling its virtues. Whoever grabs the market will benefit most and quickly lead the category. Itís time Himalaya took its name seriously, thought big and lived up to its unfulfilled promise.